A Religious Sister’s Journey to Abandoning Herself to Divine Providence, Part 1
By Carlos Briceño
The journey I’m about to share with you is a journey of resignation, surrender and abandonment to God.
It is a journey where a young woman from a small town in Wisconsin, with some help and advice from spiritual directors and Saint Teresa of Calcutta, learned how to abandon herself to Divine Providence, and, in the process, discovered the Sacrament of the Present Moment.
This journey brings to life the following passage by St. John Chrysostom, taken from his homilies on St. Matthew:
Let us place our trust in the Providence of God. Let us cut off all those anxieties which serve only to torture our minds uselessly, since, whether we make ourselves uneasy or not, it is God alone who sends us all these things, and who may increase them until He sees they disturb us less.
Of what use would all our cares, anxieties, and troubles be to us if they only served to torment us and made us suffer the pain of having had them?
Our cares are only the cares of an individual; those of God include the whole world. The more we trouble ourselves with our own interests, the less will God interfere.
He who is invited to a splendid banquet does not trouble himself about what he shall eat, and he who goes to a limpid spring does not make himself uneasy, for he knows he will be able to appease his thirst.
Since, then, we have the Providence of God, which is richer than the most magnificent feast and more inexhaustible than the purest spring, do not be uneasy — do not cherish any misgivings.
Before she was a religious sister, Mother Mary Catherine’s name was Peggy Duemling. She was born in Hartland, WI, the middle child of three children. Her mother was Catholic and her father Lutheran. Her mom loved to pray the rosary, and her dad read the Bible every night. She was baptized as a Catholic and grew up with a huge zest for life and adventures. Despite being so independent, she felt she was open to God’s will.
At the age of 23, she encountered Jesus Christ in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
She said she was not sure how to describe what she experienced in her heart. It was an invitation. How do you explain to others a call?
But her love for God, and her willingness to say “yes” to Him — this hunger of hers to go where He wanted her to — was so great that it led her, in 1988, to join the Missionaries of Charity, the Mother Teresa-founded order that is dedicated to whole-heartedly serving the poorest of the poor, under vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. She was 25 years old.
The decade she spent with the Missionaries of Charity was full of grace and hard work, she said, but created issues for her.
One regarded her parents; they were going through a difficult time in their marriage. Her father was a police officer, a member of a SWAT team, a job that was stressful and led him to often work at night. Sister John Fisher, as Peggy was known in the Missionaries of Charity, said her heart began to ache for her mom and dad. As the only daughter in the family, she wanted to be at home to help them, to try to bring them together.
Right before she made her first vows, they separated. She wanted to visit them, but she couldn’t. The Missionaries of Charity have a community custom that you can only go home once every 10 years. She asked Mother and told her what was on her heart.
Mother Teresa’s response?
“You can do nothing about it,” she said, meaning she couldn’t go back home.
Then Mother Teresa shared a comment: “Your parents will separate and divorce, and they will be apart for years, but, if you pray and fast, they will come back together.”
So, Sister John Fisher prayed for her parents and their marriage. She fasted, going from three meals a day to just a meal and a snack a day. She said she also fasted from making judgments about others. Judging others, she said, gets in the way of the Holy Spirit.
She prayed and fasted like this for years — until the time that her parents reconciled and got back together again; they ended up renewing their vows in church.
Another issue was her asthma, which has been a thorn in her side since she was three years old. The work of a Missionary of Charity (MC) sister can get strenuous at times; she worked with homeless people, gang members, AIDS hospice members, prisoners (at San Quentin Prison) and shelters. Her lungs did not appreciate the strain.
In addition, she lived in several different MC locations in the United States, including Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C., where the hot and muggy conditions caused her to have frequent and serious problems with breathing. One year, she went to the emergency room 14 times because of the severity of her asthma.
When she was sent from the MC’s Phoenix location to the MC’s Los Angeles site, she recalls going to the chapel every day before any of the other sisters, kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament, and saying, “Good morning, dear Jesus. I love you, my Jesus. Get me out of here.”
That was her prayer, day after day after day: “Get me out of here.”
The smog and the high temperatures in Los Angeles — 104 degrees is not fun for anyone, let alone someone with asthma — exacerbated her chronic disease. She was sick. She wanted to move so that she could be healthy again.
One day, during the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a priest told her, “Sister, you have to give it over to the Lord.”
The next day, she learned a valuable lesson on the path to abandonment. During prayer, she said to Jesus, “All right, if You want me here, I will stay here with asthma. But You know what the Lord said to my heart? ‘Not like that, Peggy, not like that. You have to give it to me with your whole heart — with love.’ ”
And so, she did. She handed over her anxieties and pain with her whole heart. The next day, she got a phone call from her regional superior, who said she was going to be transferred to another MC location, in San Francisco.
“It was a profound confirmation,” Mother Mary Catherine said, and, in the process, she learned a lesson for her — that there are various levels of surrender.
“One is resignation, when I do it begrudgingly,” she said. “Another one is surrender, when I toss the white flag, and I say, ‘I surrender to You.’ To me, the highest, the apex of it all, is abandonment. That one says, ‘I throw myself in Your arms because I love You, and I know You love me, and I trust You; You’re my Father.’ ”
That notion – abandonment — that journey to abandonment is a difficult one. But it is where Mother Mary Catherine has found the greatest joy and peace in her life. The story of how she dove deeper into abandoning herself to Divine Providence is what the next post will be about, next week, in part two of this series.
Mother Mary Catherine’s journey to abandoning himself to Divine Providence will be continued in part 2, which will be shared next week. For more information on abandoning yourself to Divine Providence, go to https://sotpm.design.blog/. To learn more about the Missionaries of the Word, the community of religious sisters that Mother Mary Catherine founded, go to https://www.missionariesoftheword.com/